Ah, pests. Here at Gardenerd, we like to say that having a garden without pests is like having children and expecting them to be well behaved all the time. It’s unrealistic. Most garden pests are telling us something, and the rest we can usually deal with easily without chemicals or harmful pesticides. Here’s a question that came into Ask Gardenerd this week:
“Hello, I am very new to gardening and I just started my first vegetable garden in February. It looks like something is eating my spinach and cabbage leaves. I have two questions: 1) What could be eating the leaves and how do I stop them? 2) Can I still eat leaves that have been chewed on by bugs or are they then considered inedible? Sorry if those questions might sound dumb. I am a super novice but very excited about gardening! -Victoria Genevier”
Hi Victoria, there are no dumb questions in gardening. You’re asking the right kind of questions as a new gardener, so you’re on your way to becoming a great gardener. Let’s start with cabbage first.
Whether grown in fall or spring, cabbage and other members of the Brassicaceae family have one main foe: the cabbage worm. That is most likely the critter consuming your cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables. Here is a blog post that will help you identify the bugger and will also give you steps to take to prevent further damage once you’ve rooted out the culprit. You can use a Bt based organic bug spray to get rid of the existing infestation, but we recommend hand-picking over several days to eradicate instead.
Now about that spinach. Cabbage worms are not likely the issue there (they aren’t attracted to beet-family members). With spinach it’s usually ground-crawling critters like earwigs or sow/pill bugs. Or rats. Nobody likes that last possibility, but if the tips of the leaves are missing, that’s most likely your culprit. Earwigs and sowbugs usually chew holes in the leaves rather than much on the tops. Snails or slugs could be another option. They are easy to identify because they leave behind that tell-tale trail of slime. Here are options for those guys:
Earwigs – Earwigs Don’t Wear Wigs
Sow/pill bugs – Having a Ball with Pillbugs – NOT!
Snails / slugs – Snails & Beer – A Good Combo
Rats – Oh, Rats!
You can search Gardenerd’s extensive database for more information and other blog posts about these critters, too. The key is to stay excited about gardening, despite pests and failures. You will have both, but the rewards of growing something by your own hand is incredibly satisfying and worth the learning experience.
Thanks for writing in!